COLUMN: Pete Rose deserves everything Reds gave him

A good friend emailed me Tuesday afternoon with these words:

"The best news is that the Pete (Rose) saga is nearly over. This summer there will be his Reds Hall of Fame induction and No. 14 jersey retirement, and then the statue next year, and that should do it."

Well, that may take care of the formal part of the Pete Rose saga.

But there's no way it will "do it."

The guy's gonna go on forever. I'm convinced of it.

If you're a baseball fan -- and even if you're not -- you've probably heard of Shoeless Joe Jackson, whose modern-day notoriety was helped by a movie (Kevin Costner's "Field of Dreams") and the book it was adapted from (W.P. Kinsella's "Shoeless Joe").

But even without the literati and the culturati, Shoeless Joe is famous today, simply by virtue of the fact that he wasn't enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame because of his role in the fixing of the 1919 World Series between the Reds and Jackson's Chicago White Sox. There was even a movie made from a book about that, "Eight Men Out."

Rose will be the subject of movies, and yes, believe it or not, more books 50 to 100 years from now. I don't foresee him ever being exonerated by Baseball, much as Shoeless Joe never was, but I don't see that as being a factor in diminishing Rose's or Shoeless Joe's fame and notoriety. Rather, I see their exiles as enhancing their legacies as household names.

Shoeless Joe had the .356 lifetime batting average (third highest in major league history, behind Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby) and the reality that the great Babe Ruth used him as the role model for his sweet, left-handed swing.

Rose had more: Not only is he the all-time hits leader, having surpassed the great Cobb -- the only players with 4,000 hits -- but he played 500 or more games at five different positions and made the National League All-Star team at all five: second base, left field, right field, third base and first base.

The man was born to play baseball, and, more importantly, he played every game like it was his last. And even more important than that, he played it with more joy than anybody I ever saw play it, and I include Willie Mays in that.

Rose, of course, is from here, and for all his foibles, we identify with him.

Sure, the gambling stuff is what will guarantee his notoriety, but I believe, perhaps naively, that the joy and the 4,256 hits are also going to endure.

One hundred years from now, only baseball historians are going to know the names of three of the four commissioners who presided over the game during Rose's exile -- Fay Vincent, Bud Selig and Rob Manfred. Only former commissioner Bart Giamatti will be better-remembered, and mainly because he died of a heart attack eight days after banishing Rose.

But one hundred years from now, a lot of people -- not just baseball fans -- are going to know the names of Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Ted Williams and, yes, Pete Rose.

Those five transcend baseball. Just as Sinatra and Elvis and Michael Jackson transcend music.

One hundred years from now, people are still going to know their names and at least some of their stories.

That is the class Rose is in.

And that is why Tuesday's announcement that this summer Rose will be inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame and have his number retired is a very big deal.

It will be the time to celebrate Rose as one of our own -- the way Cooperstown never would have been able to do, even if Rose had been removed from the permanently ineligible list and elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

I believe that of the 30 Major League Baseball cities, all but five or six of them have one clearly identifiable player that can be easily, readily associated with them.

Of the 25 that do, I would argue there are 10 that are in a class by themselves. I call these the Tantalizing Ten:

  • Cincinnati: Pete Rose
  • New York (Yankees): Babe Ruth
  • St. Louis: Stan Musial
  • Boston: Ted Williams
  • San Francisco: Willie Mays
  • Chicago (Cubs): Ernie Banks
  • Baltimore: Cal Ripken Jr.
  • Kansas City: George Brett
  • Pittsburgh: Roberto Clemente
  • New York (Mets): Tom Seaver

* If I could pick an 11th, it would be "Seattle: Ken Griffey Jr."

I know that good cases can be made for other cities and other players.

But those are my 10 or 11. These are players distinguished not only for their records and achievements, but mainly for their styles of play and the instant identifiability with their cities.

This is the class that Pete Rose is in -- in terms of what he means to Cincinnati.

And I mean this in a positive way, which for Rose was his play between the white lines, but also the way he talks baseball to this day.

That was obvious in the things he said Tuesday at the Reds Hall of Fame, when Reds announcer Marty Brennaman introduced him.

Of all the players I covered in my 30 years in major league clubhouses -- and that includes a lot of the visiting clubhouses in Cincinnati, as well as in other clubhouses throughout the American League -- I never heard anybody talk of the "electricity" in the seats, that is, among the fans, quite the way Rose did.

In fact, most players don't talk about the fans at all.

Rose wasn't, and isn't, faking it.

You know that if you saw him play. I saw him play a lot of games from 1974 through 1984 and covered him as a player-manager in 1985 and 1986.

I genuinely believe that no great player in the modern era was ever as intent on giving fans their money's worth as much as Peter Edward Rose.

For that alone, he deserves the Reds Hall of Fame, his number retirement, a statue and everything else the Reds can send his way.

John Erardi has covered baseball in Cincinnati for 30 years. He is a two-time Associated Press Ohio Sports Writer of the Year and co-author of six books on the Reds, including "Big Red Dynasty" and "Crosley Field."

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